Is "when you tweet an article, people should read the article before responding to the tweet" a rule? Because I know how this is going to go. I'm going to write this article, and I'm going to include several "you know, if there's even a season this winter" disclaimers, and then I'm going to tweet the article, and then I'm going to get at least three "I'm not sure why this matters because I don't think there will even be a season" responses on Twitter. Internally, every time, I'm all I SAID THAT THREE TIMES IN THE ARTICLE, but perhaps the rule is that I should put the disclaimer in the tweet to prevent the responses. Because people aren't going to read the article and respond. They're simply going to respond to the concept found in the title of the article.
I'm a 1950's sportswriter in a social media world.
Here's the concept of this article: IF WE HAVE A SEASON, with two players still deciding whether or not they stay in the draft, there are three possible rosters for Brad Underwood next season: the roster as it stands, the roster with Kofi returning, and the roster with both Ayo and Kofi returning. Yes, there's probably a fourth possibility here where Kofi stays in the draft and Ayo returns, but I see that as highly unlikely. In my view, if Kofi stays in the draft, it's because there's a much higher chance that there will be professional basketball in the next 12 months than college basketball, and if that's the case, Ayo is certainly gone.
Yes, there's also the chance that there's a grad transfer here or there. Those could alter the season as well. But, generally, everything is set. There are 10 players for next season, 11 if Kofi returns, 12 if Ayo returns. Perhaps both Kofi and Ayo leave and are replaced by two grad transfers, but in that scenario, the grad transfers likely wouldn't provide 1/10th of what Kofi and Ayo would have provided. So I see this as three rosters: what kind of team do we have now, what kind of a team do we have if Kofi returns, and what kind of team do we have if both Kofi and Ayo return. Let's climb that ladder.
The Team As It Stands Today
Kipper Nichols and Andres Feliz graduated. Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones transferred. Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn declared for the draft. So as of today, there are five players returning from last season, two sit-out transfers who will be eligible next season, plus three incoming freshmen:
Trent Frazier (SR)
Da'Monte Williams (SR)
Giorgi Bezhanishvili (JR)
Austin Hutcherson (JR)
Jacob Grandison (JR)
Jermaine Hamlin (SO)
Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk (rs-FR)
Coleman Hawkins (FR)
Andre Curbelo (FR)
Adam Miller (FR)
There's perhaps a better way to write that out. The rotation last season was, for the most part, eight guys. If a ninth guy got in the game, it was Tevian Jones. So of those nine, the players in bold are gone:
Just on the surface - take the names away and remove the Illinois - that's a massive step back. If, say, Wake Forest was 21-10 last season and ended the year ranked 21st, but then you tell me that from their top nine they had two graduations, two transfers, and two NBA declarations from their best two players, I'm just blindly saying 14-17 next season. It just happens like that.
An example: Illinois and Iowa State played in Maui in November 2018, Iowa State won, they won 23 games that year while Illinois won 12. Illinois got everyone back this season (same team, a year older, plus Kofi) while Iowa State lost several key players and... Illinois won 21 games this season and Iowa State won 12. It's a fairly typical cycle for all but the top programs. Heavy roster losses = a big drop in your record. You can offset it with roster additions and sophomore leaps (the biggest reason we went from 12 wins to 21 was Ayo becoming a sophomore), but for the most part, it's the "wow they return a lot next season" teams that win big. For the most part.
So a team without Kofi and Ayo is probably a team that struggles. We have two instant impact freshmen coming in, so I don't expect an Iowa State drop, but that's still a team that struggles, I think. Especially with Alan Griffin gone. It felt like he was ready to be the breakout star next season, and now he's off to Syracuse.
Starting lineup would probably be Trent and DaMonte plus one of the freshman guards (let's say Miller) and then one of the transfers (Hutcherson or Grandison - I'll guess Hutcherson) at the four plus Giorgi and the five. Bench is then the other freshman guard (Curbelo in this case) and the other transfer (Grandison) plus Hamlin, BBV, and Hawkins.
I don't think that's a Tournament team. It could possibly get there if Miller and Curbelo have Kofi-like freshman impacts (and if the transfers are the real deal), but I just don't think that team can get there.
Now that changes a ton. Kofi would be pushing for First Team All Big Ten honors to follow up his Freshman Of The Year campaign, and that changes so much. A list:
- Giorgi doesn't have to hold down the frontcourt by himself. It would be something like the second-half of this season. Kofi plays 25 minutes at the 5, Giorgi plays 15 minutes at the 5, and Giorgi also gets maybe 5-10 minutes at the 4.
- That trickles down through the rest of the roster. From the very little practice I saw, I think Austin Hutcherson is an Aaron Jordan (a 3 who can play the 4 in a pinch) and Jacob Grandison is more of a Kipper (a shorter 4-man), so if Giorgi doesn't have to be the entire frontcourt and Kofi is patrolling the paint, both Grandison and Hutcherson can settle more into their natural roles.
- We'd have a potential first team All Big Ten center patrolling the paint.
To me, that moves this team to the good side of the bubble. Maybe not ranked #21, but you'd have a star, and stars matter. Let's call that team a 10-seed.
Kofi and Ayo return
I'll say it again - I think this is highly unlikely. I believe Ayo will stay in the draft. So this is the "let me dream" scenario.
If Ayo returned, I believe he would be Big Ten Player of the Year next season. Even if Luka Garza returned. I think he'd be a college basketball superstar pushing for All American teams. He took a big leap this season, and with another leap, he could be junior year Cassius Winston at Michigan State. The guy that makes everything go. I might even go as far as junior-year Deron Williams.
That changes everything, right? Having two potential first team All Big Ten players changes the entire landscape. As does removing them.
Look at it this way. Picture the 2005 team with two first-team All Big Ten guys removed: Deron Williams and Luther Head. We go into the 2005 season with a starting lineup of Dee Brown, Rich McBride, Calvin Brock, Roger Powell, and James Augustine. Still a great team, but nowhere close to 37-2, right? Maybe just a regular old 6-seed?
That's the difference I see if both Ayo and Kofi were to return. This lineup dominates:
Maybe Miller pushes past Da'Monte into the starting lineup. Maybe one of the other bigs (Hamlin or BBV) is part of the rotation. But that's a team that could do a lot of damage. Especially with the Big Ten Player of the Year.
That's how much these two decisions mean, at least in my mind. From "yeah, not a Tournament team" to "could we win the Big Ten?" just by getting two players back. From "I'd like to see that team get some experience in the NIT" to "book your tickets for the second weekend of the Tournament".
I know it won't happen. The season might not even happen. But I can dream.